Broward News

Say Cheese: Tamarac Grandparents Make Awkward an Art Form

Every family has at least one member who refuses to settle for the traditional family photo. He wants an iconic image, one that's original, avant garde. 

And when no other member of the family is bold enough to destroy this artistic vision, then you'll soon have something to share with

A cofounder of the site, Mike Bender, owes much of his inspiration to the cringe-inducing photos he was subjected to as a child by his own family, especially his grandparents (that's his grandfather on the right). The elderly couple are now retired in Tamarac, but they've become internet celebrities thanks to their grandson's hit website, whose finest material has been included in a bestselling book.

My interview with Bender, plus an awkward video from his grandparents, after the jump.

The website became a hit almost the moment it was created in April 2009. It now gets 25 million impressions per month.

Some of the family photos are hilariously dated, as evidenced by the hairstyles or fashion choices. Others offer a glimpse into sibling rivalry or a parent's influence on shaping the interests of the children. Couples photos may aim for sweet or sexy but hit all kinds of creepy. After receiving so many awkward photos with family pets, Bender and cofounder Doug Chernack launched a spinoff website,

An excerpt from Juice's conversation with Bender, who lives in Los Angeles:
The photos you select seem to be on that fine line where we're laughing with -- not at -- the people in the photo. They're never cruel. Is that conscious decision on your part?
Yes. We knew that for this site to survive, we needed user submissions -- we didn't want to just be trolling the internet to find photos. So tonally, we wanted to keep it celebratory and fun, keep it from being a rip-fest. There's always a temptation to take it a little bit further, but when you actually hear from the people in the photos, it makes it easier to avoid that.
What decade provides the most awkward material? I'm guessing the '80s, maybe the early '90s?
The '80s are rich, definitely. But we get photos from the '50s, the '60s, the '70s. Really, they're all over the map. No matter when the photo was taken, if it's awkward, it's awkward.
What made you decide to launch a site for photos with family pets?
We just got so many pet photos, and we realized that it's a whole different dynamic to explore: the relationships people have with their pets. And it just deserved a place of its own.
Your grandparents are obviously a big source of inspiration, and they definitely seem to be enjoying your success. With the new book coming out, will you be making any appearances with your grandparents in South Florida?
I'd love to do something with my grandparents. It's a distinct possibility. We've got a book signing in New York on July 15. My grandparents will be there, but nothing scheduled in South Florida... yet. We'll let you know if we do.

Here's a recent video of the AFP grandparents, rejoicing in their grandson's publishing success. To learn the story behind the photo above, see this video.

You can buy the Awkward Family Photos book on the website, which offers buttons linking to four major online booksellers.

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Thomas Francis